Barry Jackson

Hurricanes QB race just got fierce, with ‘short general’ Martell officially in the mix

UM receiver Mike Harley talks about QB Tate Martell

Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Mike Harley (3) comments on quarterback Tate Martell during spring football practice at the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility in Coral Gables on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.
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Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Mike Harley (3) comments on quarterback Tate Martell during spring football practice at the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility in Coral Gables on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

Whenever quarterback Tate Martell hurls a football to University of Miami slot receiver Mike Harley, the junior wideout feels something strange smack his face.

“Every time I catch a ball, a piece of turf flies in my face — or I can feel the wind through my helmet,’’ Harley said Wednesday. “...The zip on it. It’s like speed.’’

But Harley, the 5-9, 175-pound, jet-propelled pass-catcher who was previously timed at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash and called the 5-11, 210-pound Martell “a short general — very short, with a deep voice you wouldn’t expect,’’ showed no particular preference for his quarterback of choice. He seemed to favor rising redshirt freshman Jarren Williams as well, and made sure to say kind words about former starter N’Kosi Perry, a soon-to-be redshirt sophomore.

“Not boosting him up,” Harley said of the 6-2, 210-pound Williams, “but [he’s] like a pro-style quarterback, like he’s been in the NFL before. Like, I just love the zip on it, the accuracy. I just feel like he’s ready. He matured the most. It’s just like a perfect ball from a quarterback.”

The battle for the UM starting quarterback job effectively started Wednesday, a day after the Hurricanes began spring practice and later learned from the NCAA that Ohio State quarterback transfer Martell, a redshirt sophomore and 2016 Gatorade National [prep] Player of the Year, will be eligible for the 2019 season after receiving a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately in 2019.

With Martell cleared, Miami’s quarterback competition is fiercer than ever, as all three quarterbacks are impressing their teammates and looked strong and accurate during Wednesday’s 30-minute media viewing period.

Coach Manny Diaz, who wasn’t supposed to address the media until Friday but changed the schedule to speak Tuesday after the NCAA decision, said it was the right resolution. Long after Diaz spoke, Martell remained in the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility throwing passes to Buffalo graduate transfer K.J. Osborn, the only other Hurricane who stayed behind for on-field work.

“I’m happy for Tate because that was something every day he was waking up and wondering what his future is going to be,” said Diaz, who intends to continue sharing snaps among Martell, Perry and Williams during the remaining 13 spring sessions. “I think he feels good but I think everyone feels good because they feel like the right decision was made.

“These cases all rest on their individual laurels. On the outside, no one really knows what the details are. It’s hard, because you want to make assumptions, this transfer case vs. that transfer case. They’re all unique. And the NCAA has a very hard job. ...From very early on, we were cautiously optimistic this would be the ruling. The fact it came through, we feel like the process did a great job.”

Martell hasn’t been made available for interviews since enrolling at UM in January, but Diaz said waiting on an NCAA decision was difficult for him.

“It was tough,” Diaz said. “You could see the strain get to him because you might hear this week and then that week went by and the waiting is the hardest part. If you had known the decision was going to come on March 19, then you would wake up with sweaty palms on March 19. It was a process where you really didn’t know.

“To his credit, what did he do? He came out here and worked. He was outstanding in our offseason program, worked hard, and did a great job in the weight room.”

Diaz said Martell’s eligibility for 2019 won’t impact how snaps are allocated among the quarterbacks during spring practice.

“We practiced the same way today as we did yesterday, before we knew,” Diaz said.

How did Williams and Perry react to the news of Martell’s immediate eligibility?

“No different than the way they would have reacted when it was first announced that Tate was coming,” Diaz said. “They understand that this is the University of Miami and there should always be an expectation of competition. No different than how Tate should react to Jarren and N’Kosi every day at practice. This is going to be a competition. We all want to talk about the quarterback for good reason but we won’t be who we want to be unless we really have some intense competition for playing time at practice.”

On the practice field Tuesday, all three scholarship quarterbacks impressed, though there was no real order until the 7-on-7s began and former starter Perry took the first snaps, followed by Martell and Williams. Walk-on redshirt junior transfer Carson Proctor continued to look sharp, with fellow walk-ons Ryan Rizk and Augie DeBiase also competing.

Harley, who caught 21 passes for 240 yards last season, said he’s “having fun” and has a “great feeling about the season this year.’’

“It’s just like I’m free, like you let that bird out that’s been barking all day,” said Harley, who graduated from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas High School.” He said he has been dedicating himself to the weight room and meeting room more. “We’re using our weapons more,’’ he said of UM’s new, more complicated offense that uses presnap motion and shifts. “Finesse, style, I like it a lot.’’

Harley also mentioned that Perry, who started six games last season and threw for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns, with six interceptions but the least accurate completion percentage of 50.8, was “doing 10 times better.’’

“I just feel like N’Kosi is just trusting the process.’’

As for Williams, Harley said he has seen a “major difference’’ this offseason “mechanics wise’’ and “maturity wise.’’

“Off the field, on the field,’’ Harley said, “Jarren just blossomed. I feel like he was in a cage as well, and just got free.’’

Senior safety Robert Knowles went down with what appeared to be a right shoulder or arm injury on Wednesday, a day after he appeared to hurt his left hip. He was flanked by medical staff as he slowly walked off the field. Diaz said later that Knowles “got some work in.’’

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